Neon Blue (suspense) and This Shoal of Space (SF) by John Argo were the first two e-books ever published online for download, in the history of the world, 1996-7 in innovative weekly serial chapters. More info at the museum pages. If you enjoy this free read, which is offered in the spirit of the Golden Age of the World Wide Web, please consider buying a print or e-book edition as a way of thanking the author. A fine E-book is typically priced at the cost of a latte, yet offers many more hours of enjoyment than a cup of coffee. Thank you (John Argo).
On Friday evening, Blue went out with Martha. They ate pesto pizza, then went to a cold, yawning disco place where mirrors flashed with borrowed neon and rock music pounded. Blue liked Martha but wished Connor were here. Was that dumb?
"It's a cool place," Martha said, ordering daiquiris. She took Blue by the hand and led her onto the dance floor. In one corner, men danced together. In another corner, women. In the middle, men with women. Waiters and waitresses in black and white uniforms raced through the crowd, like shuttling among countries but not needing passports; sort of an economic union.
Blue and Martha danced to slow, throbbing fifties love tunes. Martha held her tightly, and Blue let it flow around her. Under the palm trees, in a California ambiance of understatement, nobody seemed to care. Blue felt Martha's hands roving about her. This was one of the places they'd stopped at the other night when Blue had gotten drunk and barfed over Martha's shoulder. She remembered now. Rocking slowly, feeling Martha's hard slim body in her arms. Martha's cheek nuzzled against hers. A really challenging couple appeared on the dance floor. A tall, rangy blonde, body builder type, small-breasted and muscular, whose hair whipped loosely as she danced with the woman she was with, a slim blonde with a pillbox hat tilted rakishly over her forehead.
Blue remembered "Martha," she whispered. Fascinated, she watched them dance. Martha mmm?ed dreamily. Blue whispered: "Martha! Look!" She turned Martha bodily 180 degrees. "See?"
Martha snapped out of her reverie. "Darling, what is it?"
"Remember Connor's woman who had left the Jana clippings and disappeared? With the flashy blue neon sunglasses?"
Martha groaned. "Honey, let's not be at work. Not now."
Blue squeezed. "That's her!"
Martha's eyes bulged. "You're right."
"Wait here and be cool," Blue said. Martha watched from a window as Blue dug in her purse, found a cigarette, and went out to smoke. The two women were in the parking lot, where they kissed long and hard, stroking each other's limbs. Then the Amazon of the pair went one way, and Miss Neon got into a white Porsche. Connor had mentioned Porsche. Blue memorized the license plate: VIRGIED. She frowned. Virgied? or Virgie D.?
Virgie (and) Ed? She tossed the cigarette, went inside, and told Martha: "You've got to find out who owns that car."
"Like now?" Regretfully, Martha dug out her car keys.
They stopped at Martha's house, overlooking a small canyon, and Martha called Barnes at home. Barnes promised to have Operations make the VIRGIED immediately.
Martha poured a couple of rose coolers. She tried to nuzzle, but Blue gently, firmly pushed her away. "Not now." Seeing Martha's anguish, the pain in those lovely squiggle-eyes, she felt terrible. "I don't seem to be good at saying no. I'm sorry. Why don't I just say it? No."
They went out on a redwood deck overhanging the canyon, easily a hundred foot drop. Hundred twenty foot tall mature eucalyptus trees grew in profusion along the canyon's slopes, affording privacy. "You really confuse me," Martha said without a hint of the bitterness or pain she must be feeling.
"Blue, do you go for men?"
Blue laughed. "I was married to one once."
Martha looked into her wine. "That's not the question. I mean, now in your life. I would really like to know."
Blue took a sip of her own cooler, feeling the fizz and the sweetness in her throat. "Yes. Don't you, at all?"
"No." Martha rubbed her finger along the mouth of her glass. "Have you been leading me on? On purpose?"
"God no, Martha."
"I thought you're lesbian, Blue."
Blue felt confronted. She began to sweat. It was something she had put in one of her boxes. "I never think of it that way. I think percentages. I like women, but I like men too. I just don't know what my percentages are. I don't know if it's fifty-fifty or eighty-twenty. How about you?"
Martha finished her wine and tossed the glass into the canyon. "I get along fine with men except, in sex, to me they are drones. What does that make me, a hundred-ought?"
Blue squirmed. "There really aren't any neat labels, are there? Not when you really look at it."
Martha said, "The reason I asked, Blue, is I've been really thinking about you. You know. I'm glad you're being honest. I have a big crush on you. It's hurts" her eyes filled, her mouth quavered, her fingers trembled trying to wipe tears, and her gaze fluttered up into the stars, anyplace where she would not have to meet Blue's eyes.
"Martha," Blue said feeling like a total heel.
"I understand," Martha whispered, a quaver. "You're not going to fall in love with me. I'll face that."
Blue went into the kitchen, found the paper towels, brought them. She sat near Martha but resisted the impulse to hug her. Martha took a paper towel and slowly dried her tears away, still sniffling, a hiccup now and then. When she seemed strong, she said: "You bi broads always amaze me."
"I was hoping we could be buddies," Blue said.
"Is that like let's just be friends?"
"No hope?" Martha asked.
"I can't change things."
"All right, I getcha," Martha said.
Blue suggested: "We're supposed to be ace number one cops, remember? Fighting crime and all. We can't very well do that if we're all bummed out about our love lives."
"Are you in love with someone, Blue?"
Blue shook her head.
"The Connor dude," Martha sighed.
Barnes called. "The license on that Porsche."
"Yes?" Blue asked.
"Belongs to a Virgie di Santo. Mean anything to you?"
She thought hard. "No
Barnes gave an address that Martha, listening on another phone, wrote down. "The woman has a clean record. Not even a parking ticket. Thirty two, works as a waitress at, oo la la, a lesbian bar on Adams Avenue. It doesn't say lesbian here, I just know the place."
On the way to Martha's car, Blue asked: "You want to check it out? Alone? With me?"
Martha slapped a twenty in Blue's palm. "Take a cab home," she said through swollen crying glands or whatever, "I need to be alone. I'll drive out there tonight and let you know when I've got my soul off the floor and put back together." She walked off, leaving Blue open-mouthed. In the car door, she added: "I'm sorry, I don't want to lay any guilt on you. We are all who we are, the way we are, we didn't ask to be this way, and we're doing the best we can." She drove off in a fishtail of dust, and Blue watched the red lights recede.
Copyright © 1996 by John Argo, Clocktower Books. All Rights Reserved.